This was my first Ibajay Ati-Ati in over twenty years, a triumphant return to my birthplace. A return that gave me so much insight on my roots, family ties, and the insatiable desire to always be the last man dancing. It was an ear-splitting, booty-shaking, lechon-feasting fiesta that only Filipinos could fathom.
A town of 50,000 people come together for some ground-quaking stomping that makes it feel like a city of millions. Each barangay and clan musters their soldiers to take to the streets, some with flamboyant floats, dazzling costumes, and choreographed performances. Others with their small circle of family members, adorned in matching t-shirts and charcoal streaked across their face. However extravagant or cozy your ensembles, each clan has one thing in common. They are ready to party.
Ibajaynons of all generations come together to celebrate this one-of-a-kind annual festival. For the vast majority of the world, even the faintest idea of this festival has never once crossed their mind. The happenings in this tiny corner of the world go largely under the radar as far as international tourism goes, something that might actually be a blessing in keeping Ati-Ati as close to its original roots as possible. Seriously though, imagine all of the pre-manufactured outrage if this much blackface was involved in anything in a Western country.
I only managed to spot a half-dozen foreigners mixed in with the raucous crowd at Ibajay. The thing that made them stand out wasn’t their pale skin but their puzzled looks and resistance to the rhythm. Ati-Ati isn’t just something you watch. It’s something you become a part of.
Whether you’re an 80 year-old attending your 80th Ati-Ati or a 3 year-old dancing inside a coconut float, as long as Filipino blood flows through your veins, you are moving.
You could be stomping, you could be swaying, but no matter what, you are pushing forward. As long as the drums behind you keep beating, so too, must your feet.
The people of Ibajay go all-out for this one week and seemingly just chill the entire rest of the year. I completed my hazy trek home at around 4 AM, anxiously anticipating how awful I would feel for the big final day coming up. Waking up on Sunday morning after yet another unexpectedly wild night out should have been a task.
But as soon as those drums started beating, I felt like a kid on Christmas morning. Our matching blue shirts emblazoned with our insignia and our crest were brought out as dozens and dozens of people started arriving at our house.
The drummers assembled on our front lawn. The charcoal was prepared inside coconuts and all of a sudden, we were going to war. With a drum band behind you, a uniform bearing your roots, and war paint applied as if we were guerrilla in the jungle, this felt like war. Our flag stood high on a bamboo pole as we marched through the streets of Ibajay. Breakfast came in the form of the four San Miguels that I downed to counter the sizzling Philippine heat that did nothing to slow the momentum of over 50,000 Filipinos who came to party.
From there, the day only escalated. A couple hours for an utter feast of lunch was the only break we got before re-assembling at 3 PM for the final battle.
On the outside looking in, you might see a bunch of people in matching shirts just trudging forward. As someone born in Ibajay but as far-removed from my roots as possible, it could have gone a number of ways. I could have done what I did at Kalibo Ati-Atihan, be simply an outsider taking photos as all these people seemed to have a lot more fun than me. Or, I could’ve gotten utterly lost in the proverbial sauce and wiggled my way to the promised land. I wholeheartedly chose the latter.
Ati-Ati is more than just a reason to party, though. It is a celebration that exemplifies everything that made us who we are. It is about the pride in you, those who came before you, and representing those generations as you whirlwind through the streets. And, it is also about dancing your face off as you shamelessly vibe to whatever rhythms the percussionists behind, in front, and in every direction decide to play. Whether it is the Carpenters, Camila Cabello, or some aggressive drum call to battle, combinations that make very little sense but that you’re just going to have to accept. Despite wielding my camera for the entirety of every parade, I had absolutely no desire to take any pictures. If it weren’t for the rare lulls in the parade when I remembered I even had it, it would have just been dead weight for 12 hours.
As the sun descended and the sky started dimming, one would assume the party would slow down. It did the exact opposite. The occasional streetlamp served as the only lights as we followed silhouettes and drumbeats blindly through the waning hours of the festival. I was growing weary, finally discovering where that insatiable desire to be the last man dancing came from.
In most places that I travel to across the world, I tend to be the last man dancing until my feet can physically no longer carry me. In the Philippines, I was just another figure two-stepping in the crowd. There was something special about coming back here. I was home.
Those were some of the most genuine cheeses I’ve mustered in the past few months. Ati-Ati, let’s hope you become a yearly adventure of mine. Viva.
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28 thoughts on “The Best Of Ibajay Ati-Ati Festival 2019”
Wonderful photos–thanks for sharing!
Wow, this looks absolutely amazing! This kind of festivals are always fun to see – and to take part in, too <3 Even pictures make me wanna dance 🙂
If you’re willing to dance then you’ve got the right spirit already 😉
I can hear the music and feel the vibrations right from your photos. The Ibajay Ati-Ati Festival looks so incredible I may have to visit one day. Thanks for sharing!
So colorful and creative and it seems like everyone is so into it! I can only imagine how fun it would be to be there, thank you so much for sharing! Awesome pics!
wow this looks like such an amazing festival! One of a kind experience!
This festival is so interesting, their costumes chills me in a beautiful way, even if i was just looking through photos..😊👏
Uy! I wanna go there rin! Next time makiki destival ako 🙂
Amazing photography it really feels like the reader is there at the festival. Looks like an amazing and vibrant place to visit.
This festival sounds and looks great. The photos here are so amazing.
I’m in. Great writing. I loved your style of prose. You painted a great scene and made the reader want to be there with you. kudos my friend.
Thank you! Really appreciate it!!
What a fierce festival. I love the costumes!
Wow! These are such incredible pictures! And I’ve never heard of this Festival before, so it was a really interesting read.
Such amazing pictures from this festival. I love knowing and seeing how other cultures are celebrating !
This is so amazing festival and thanks for sharing those pictures.
Philippines is rich for natural resources and many festivals (OMG I don’t know how many actually!)
Love that they use indigenous materials as part of their festive costumes.
Yeah! The creativity of the costumes with their materials was amazing. I went to another festival that emphasized recyclable materials and it was amazing to see how they incorporated what would normally be trash into their costumes and make it work so beautifully.
Now this is an experience! Wow, just wow! I would love to experience their culture during this event one day.
Wow what an amazing experience. Adding this to my bucket list.
That is once in a lifetime experience! I am so glad you shared it, because I wouldn’t have known about it any other way. Wonderful.
It seems everyone had an amazing moment. The photos, the people, what a beautiful festival this was!
Wow! This festival looks soooo much fun! Would love to see this someday soon.
those costumes are amazing! i would have loved to experience this
This is unapologetically awesome!!! I would love to experience this for myself one day!
You did a wonderful job capturing the festive. The images are amazing. Also, you looked like you had a good time.
How cool is this festival! I bet that you had the best time and learned so much.
Nice article. I feel like I am really experiencing it. Proud Filipina here